‘Tis The Season

A mother taking a selfie while decorating cookies with her daughter

Make Relationships a Top Priority

‘Tis the season… to give thanks, to connect with loved ones, to give of ourselves, to take stock of what really matters in our lives. Central to all this is relationships: with family, and friends, and people who we appreciate having in our lives. This year—more than ever—we need to make time and space for healthy relationships, even if it takes extra effort. It’s something we all feel, but there’s plenty of science to back this up.

“Research supports that happiness is linked to having meaningful relationships,” explains licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Turner. “Also, studies show that having close connections with others is just as important for our health and life span as eating healthy foods and exercising.” Think about that—as disciplined as we may be about our diets and exercise regimen—how many of us can honestly say we devote the same care to our mental health? When life feels too busy to even think about these things, Dr. Turner says making time for self-care won’t just make you happy—it will pay off.

“Spending time with people you love can recharge you and help you to feel calmer and happier,” she explains. “This can actually improve your productivity at work and help you to feel more focused when completing tasks.”

As we cap off a year like no other, we enter a holiday season where—for the first time—togetherness is being discouraged. How can we reconcile staying physically healthy by staying safely distant, while also building and maintaining the relationships we and, just as importantly, our loved ones need? There’s no easy answer to this, but a little perspective can really change your outlook.

“It is an act of love to be separate from our families and friends this holiday season,” Dr. Turner reminds us. “If our thoughts are focused on the importance of keeping those, we love safe by being distanced, we will likely feel at peace with this decision.”

It goes without saying this does not mean we should just send our loved ones a Christmas card that says “See you next year.” Here are some creative ways to share holiday cheer, even with loved ones in another state:

  • Mail gifts, and open them over FaceTime, so you can still share that moment.
  • Schedule an extended family game night over Zoom. Trivia, Scattergories, and Charades are great options that can be enjoyed remotely.
  • Start a Secret Santa gift exchange with your friend group. Order online and have it shipped to the recipient, so everyone gets a surprise in the mail.
  • Pick up the phone for an old-fashioned catch-up session. Schedule a time when both of you are free, pour yourself your favorite drink, and toast remotely to the weirdest year ever.

Remember to check in on others. Dr. Turner points out that we might not be aware of who among us is feeling isolated. “In particular, people who live alone may be feeling more isolated than in the past. Give family members a call, stand outside and chat with neighbors (with masks on and socially distanced), and send letters, cards, your kids artwork, and pictures to those who could use a reminder that there are people out there thinking of them.”

So here’s a word you should add to your vocabulary immediately: Friluftsliv. Say it with me now: . It’s a concept the Norwegians embrace, and it translates to “free air life.” In a country known for long, cold winters, folks bundle up, and live their best outdoor life. This is the winter for you to connect with others outside. Stuff your family’s stockings with hats, scarves, wool socks, and neck gaiters (that double as face coverings!) and head outdoors.

  • Invest in an outdoor heater or fire pit and catch up with friends in your yard. No one can resist toasting marshmallows! Avoid contact by making it BYOB, and FYOS (find your own stick).
  • Take a hike! Your favorite summer spot looks very different—but equally beautiful—in January.

As we begin a new year full of hope, take time to give thanks for the people who add value to your life and bring you joy. While you may build these relationships in happy times, they really make all the difference when the going gets tough, says Dr. Turner. “People with close relationships have a support system that acts as a buffer for when they are going through stressful situations.”